By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Paylut: Eskwelahan sa Oma, circa 1967-1973 (Second of three parts)
posted 22-Apr-2011  ·  
1,730 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Elementary education consists of a growing loss of one’s simple and enchanted world towards a more complicated and brute sense of reality. But my own time at paylut from 1967 to 1973 was not merely a personal journey through this pattern of development because it was attended by some real historic passage in the outside world. As my generation moved from primary years to intermediate grades, the Philippines and the rest of the planet went through some drastic and profound social changes, so much so that when we graduated in grade six, we emerged unto a world quite unlike the one we knew.

The first event that so dramatically compelled us out of our limited milieu happened in 1969, when we were in grade three. Humans landed on the moon. Suddenly, our reality pushed to the heavens, a vast universe burst to all sides from our immediate familiar space, as we listened to Neil Armstrong broadcasting from the moon and into our transistor radios. He was saying something about a step on lunar soil becoming a grand stride for mankind. It all wreaked havoc on the simplistic sense of proportion of our young minds, for how can people walk and jump around something that was as big as the nigo that our mothers used to prepare rice for lunch? Man on the moon which we thought was being swallowed by a malasugi during eclipse? My lola, tabangan ning Diyos, blurted out her incredulity "Ay kai-ispanta!"

While the landing on the moon represented unimaginable possibilities for progress, political developments in the country itself created great anxiety on the people. Marcos won a second term, but soon after we heard of growing protest actions in Manila through media reports. Those who arrived from the city validated it with their tales of how it is maribok in the city, with violent demonstrations every day, and bombings and killings everywhere. These were utterly absurd for the Viracnons who were overwhelmingly, rabidly pro-Marcos. It did not quite jibe with what seemed as a "golden age" for progress in Catanduanes because there was a public construction frenzy going on, courtesy of political largesse secured by the Albertos from the national government. There was the new supermarket, the bag-ong sinehan, the boulevard by the sea, etc., even the new church building was said to be financed by political money. At the paylut, progress meant "faming out, sports in" as Adot’s own lair, the fertile rice lands, were being filled up with arid sand in order to become an enormous sports complex. For a time, the mountains of quarried soil brought in by dump trucks became our play ground, but then the filling up caused floods during rainy season in the campus itself, which caused us to have aripunga. But we didn’t care; a fluvial campus was such a novelty and we easily made the waters useful for paper boats and other playful gimmicks.

But soon the national political troubles became real in Catanduanes when it translated into economic woes. Inflation rates were going crazily high. Prices went up and there came a rice crisis. My classmates at the paylut tried to outdo each other with tales of how their families dealt with the crisis, like how they had pan Americano for regular meals, which was something to brag about. Those who had kamonte for lunch kept quiet but some of them were betrayed by their incessant and obnoxious atot. Then we knew that something was really wrong.

The strangest experience I had as an elementary pupil happened in 1970 when I was in grade four. It made a lasting impression on me, and possibly shaped the way I carried my life later. One lazy afternoon, my gaze floated out to the windows while my teacher was blabbering some bland lessons. Beyond the asbestos roof of the buildings outside were the green lush of vegetation and the distant fields of Pamalogo. All these idyllic and static scenery was suddenly interrupted by red, blood red stream of banners waving frantically in the wind. They bear incendiary slogans calling for a revolution. Makibaka, huwag matakot! they said among other things. It was actually the funeral procession of a youth from Danicop who perished in the hands of the Metrocom in one of the demonstrations in Manila. It was thoroughly disorienting, and the entire class gaped puzzled, even our teacher stopped her talkies. Then after some moments it was back to the sleepy idyll of the afternoon, as if it was all a dream. The bloody upheaval in the capital city suddenly was there just outside the window of the eskwelahan sa oma but just for a fleeting while.

There would be no other presence of radical politics in largely conservative Virac after that, except in 1971 during the campaign for the elections of delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Walking home from school towards noontime, I chanced upon some student leaders of the Catanduanes Colleges holding a rally to support the anti-administration candidate (Atty. Romeo Tablizo?). The heat of the fiery delivery by the speaker (Roger Sebastian) was matched by the earnest of the noon sun, but there was no equally fired up audience to reciprocate. There was hardly anybody else except me. I marveled at the righteous anger evoked and the kind of language used, speaking of tuta and of diktadura, and I was reminded of the red spectacle that intruded one sleepy afternoon of my grade four class. I trembled with excitement inside me. I didn’t know why but it foretold of terrible things to come.

In October 13 1970, typhoon Sening, the most devastating howler of that time, made bulls-eye hit of Catanduanes. It caused untold destruction to properties and lives. For us at the paylut, it broke apart the world we knew, in a physical sense, but surely it claimed psychic toll, too. But the greater storm was still to come two years later. We were in our sixth grade when the entire country was place under martial law in 1972. The relatively laid back and pro-Marcos Virac didn’t immediately feel the full drastic implications of the move, and I am not sure if it ever did even later on. At home, my father, who seemed to have the oppositionist gene, expressed grave concern about "losing our freedom" and the immediate loss he felt was that he would not be able to listen to his favorite radio commentators critical of Marcos and read the Free Press magazine. I remember that classes were suspended in the aftermath of martial law, and there was a general hush-hush atmosphere as the local government adjusted to the new dispensation. Everybody put on a demeanor of discipline and obedience, as the imagination was that one’s every move is being watched by some all-seeing eye. Nobody could even take the lantsa ride to the mainland without an ID. But to the Viracnon who had led simple lives of conformity, it was mostly relief: no more disturbing news of instability in the mainland.

During our commencement exercises in 1973, our graduation song was the Bagong Lipunan Hymn arranged in four voices. Its first line went "Bagong Lipunan and dapat, maloon na nating hinahangad. . ." By this time, we already committed to our hearts the motto "Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan" that intruded even our wet dreams. So we spent our adolescence - supposedly one of youthful exuberance, experimentation and rebelliousness – with discipline and conformity as the words to carry by. In our book, terms such as "freedom," "self-expression," "critical thinking" were marginalized. Our generation was among the first recipient of the Marcosian experiment in social engineering, in attempts to "harness the youth for productive citizenship." Proceeding on to high school, we recited the protracted and convoluted "Prayer of the Nation" under the heat of the sun, participated in the Citizens Army Training (CAT), and "Scouting in the New Society." In the community, we registered in the Kabataang Barangay (KB), went to youth camps in Mt. Makiling where we burnt effigies representing "Oligarchy" or the "Old Society" and paraded under colorful banners reminiscent of Hitler Youth.

As the years of dictatorship wore on, the real score of the regime showed as the record of human rights violation and corruption by the small circle of cronies piled up, even while the quality of life of the average Filipino deteriorated. But all that were hindsight. In the early years of martial law when we emerged from the paylut in order to move on to the next set of challenges in life, things didn’t look like they could go wrong; in fact they seemed to be getting better. Television had just reached Virac; the latest status symbol was an antenna installed atop one’s roof, never mind that the signal could manage only to broadcast the "Superstar" show of Ate Guy which appeared like a series of pointillist images, as if there was eternal snowfall in the studio. The first batch of OCW’s had been recently dispatched to Saudi and have started sending back home the goods. And there was a state college being established in town that will offer courses such as engineering and nursing. In our slum books, the typical entry on the slot for "ambition" was "to go abroad." On the entertainment front, Nora and Vilma, eternally in competition, still reigned supreme. OPM was taking good notice, and the Chinese martial arts films were becoming popular so that our former idols Roberto Gonzales and Tony Ferrer were being eased out by such names as Meng Fei, Wang Yu and yes, Bruce Lee. After graduation in grade six, my buddy Carlo Arcilla, who was to attend the Philippine Science High School, treated me to a Chinese action movie titled "Life or Death" at the posh JMA theatre. He shelled out two pesos admission cost for the two of us (a peso per head), 300 per cent higher than the twenty five cents we paid to watch "The Sound of Music" way back in 1967, when we were in grade one. Quite a long way gone indeed as to the things that amused us: from a flighty, starry-eyed Julie Andrews who sang her thoughts, to some grim-faced Chinese master who made gripo on the enemy’s lower torso by the use of a finger. Amazing.

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